Sacramento’s Innovation Agenda Goes to Washington
In March a group of nearly 90 leaders from across the Sacramento region descended on an unusually cold Washington D.C. for an advocacy trip to spotlight local priorities to the federal government, with a focus on the agencies of the new Administration. The day after participants returned home, the President released his proposed budget for 2017-18, which poses significant impacts to many of the agencies with which we met, and further highlighting the undeniable linkages between federal decision-making and local impact.
Organized by the Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce, Region Business, and the Office of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the trip preceded the region’s long-standing Capitol-to-Capitol program and provided an early, important, and well-timed glimpse of emerging agency priorities and leadership.
Valley Vision CEO Bill Mueller and I participated in the Capital Region Executive Leadership Mission as co-leaders of two separate policy teams. Bill headed up the Workforce Development team, together with Michele Steeb of St. John's Program for Women & Children and Dennis Canevari of SMW Local 104, while I co-led the Innovation, Clean Energy, and Advanced Manufacturing team, together with Mark Haney of Haney Biz and Hunter Stern of IBEW Local 1245.
As proud members of the team with the longest name (and arguably the most easily divisible into three sub-teams!), our star-studded team focused our efforts on the concept of critical infrastructure – specifically the networks that are invaluable to today’s information economy – while the Transportation team had the more usual infrastructure topics of roads, bridges, and rails very well covered.
Our critical infrastructure topics included the electric utility grid modernization and security, broadband networks as a platform for economic and jobs growth, and robust industry/university partnerships to help advance manufacturing across multiple sectors.
Befitting the breadth of our topics, the Innovation team with agencies including the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Treasury Department, as well as with elected leaders Senator Kamala Harris and Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Doug LaMalfa, and Doris Matsui. (A planned meeting with the Federal Communications Commission was cancelled because of snow.)
It came by no surprise that there are many uncertainties in the DC environment right now, including the transition to the new Administration, the process of naming political appointees, and the impacts of the President’s budget (since delivered). As a result, all of the agencies we met with were cautious about what they were able to share with us, and – in fact – curious to learn what we might be hearing.
As an example, the SBA’s new Administrator has been named – Linda McMahon – but staffers in the Office of Innovation and Investment had not yet met with her. Nonetheless, they provided their best assessment of her emerging priorities, which include veteran-owned small businesses, and potentially a consolidation of a variety of narrowly-targeted programs within SBA, to increase efficiencies. SBA in our region has provided guarantees to small business borrowers that have made possible more than $925M in more than 2,225 loans in the last 3 years, opening up pathways to expansion, job growth, and wealth creation.
Over at EDA, the role of Assistant Secretary is currently filled on an acting basis by Thomas Guevara. The EDA is currently filling four other acting titles within the agency, as political appointments remain to be made. EDA, only a $221M organization in 2016-17, was anticipating a 20-25% cut to its budget in the President’s proposed budget; in fact, the “skinny” budget released last Thursday proposes to eliminate it altogether. The implications of that stand to have significant impact on our local region considering that the EDA has invested more than $1.8M in our region in the last five years, supporting projects including IMCP implementation, the Yolo Rail Relocation Study, and assistance to small businesses provided by California Capital.
At DOE, we learned that although that there is uncertainty regarding the future of programs focused on alternative energy and energy efficiency, the utility grid-focused programs are being commonly understood as essential infrastructure, and therefore thought to be at lesser risk of cuts.
From the Treasury Department, we had an update on both the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) grants, and the New Markets Tax Credits program; the President has subsequently called for the elimination of CDFIs, which was funded at $210M in 2016-17.
As always, and especially in a period of shifting priorities and emphases at the federal levels, the efforts of those involved in this trip, as well as the Metro Chamber’s upcoming Cap-to-Cap Trip in about six weeks, cannot be understated. Speaking together about our region’s collective priorities and needs, and how federal decisions affect those, is the most effective way to “speak truth to power.”
Meg Arnold is a Managing Director of Valley Vision working in the innovation, clean economy, and workforce portfolios.